Getting in Shape For Summer: When to Splurge and When to Save

While certain exercise items are worth the money, not everything you need to get fit fast requires a large investment.

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It's that time of year when Americans re-examine their physiques and place a high priority on getting ready for bathing suit season. The problem? Many consumers don't have the budget to start a full-fledged fitness routine in time for summer.

Not to fear – while certain fitness items are worth the money, not everything you need to get fit fast requires a large investment. From group classes and personal training to workout music and running shoes, fitness and financial experts weigh in on when to splurge and when to save to whip your body into shape.

Group fitness classes: save. Many people enjoy working out with others in a group class, where a trainer is there to guide the group and keep participants motivated.

If you're dependent on group activities to keep you moving, you don't have to join a pricey gym to gain access to group classes. Mary Beth Storjohann, a certified financial planner in San Diego, says there are a number of LivingSocial, Groupon and other online daily deals for group fitness classes such as spinning, boot camp and Pilates. "While it's smart to check out online reviews before purchasing, this is a good way to save money upfront and get some insight into a class or gym before investing too much cash," she says.

Shoes: splurge. Kendal Perez, blogger for HassleFreeSavings.com and savings expert for the "Frugals family" money-saving websites, says there is no substitute for a well-fitted pair of shoes. Plus, wearing the shoes strictly for exercise will allow you to keep the pair in good shape longer. "To extend the life of your new kicks, wear them only while running, and wear something else when shopping or doing yard work," Perez says, adding consumers can shop at outlets for additional savings.

Once you get fitted and know your brand and style, order replacement pairs online for less. Savings expert Andrea Woroch recommends searching online for coupons before making a purchase. “Sites like FreeShipping.org often offer free shipping and coupons for money off [at] popular shoe retailers like Shoes.com, where you can now get 20 percent off your order, plus free shipping and free returns," Woroch says.

Activewear: save. While it's nice to know you're at least wearing good-looking clothes while red-faced and covered in sweat, shelling out a lot of money for brand-name apparel is generally a waste. That's not to say you can't own a wardrobe of stylish, high-quality activewear – you just don't have to break your budget for such purchases.

Perez recommends shopping for workout clothes at discount retailers like T.J. Maxx, where you can find products from big names such as Nike, Adidas, Puma and Calvin Klein for a fraction of what you'd pay at a specialty sports retailer. "I also run in old T-shirts," Perez says. "I'm not yet professional enough to buy [cool], breathable, sweat-wicking and performance-enhancing fabrics, I guess."

Workout music: splurge. A good playlist can give you the strength to run that extra mile or lift that last set of weights. As such, Perez doesn't believe in skimping in the music department, maintaining it's worth investing in an MP3 player. "I'm not saying you have to get an iPod, but do find a device that will last you several years,” she says. “There's nothing worse than having your music cut out or stop altogether while you're jogging up a hill.”

If you opt for an Apple product, look for refurbished iPods on sale at Amazon, where you can find sales like $20 savings on a current generation iPod nano.

Personal training: splurge. A good personal trainer can create a fitness plan tailored to your specific abilities and goals. Jim Lyons, a personal trainer in Dallas, recommends seeking training from an independent fitness professional or someone who works for a small, locally-owned studio to avoid the upsell common at major fitness organizations.

As Lyons points out, "When trying to decide where to spend your money in relation to fitness, one very important thing to keep in mind is this: Money spent on your own well-being should not be viewed as an expense – it should be viewed as an investment in yourself."

Casey Bond writes for www.GoBankingRates.com, your source for the best bank accounts, certificate of deposit rates, savings account rates, personal finance news and more.